At almost every level, except maybe the upper echelons of bestsellerdom, writers seeking to establish professional relationships face a signal-to-noise ratio so lopsided it’s like pitting a mouse against an elephant.
Guess which critter the writer is.
The only way to cut through the noise and make yourself stand out is to do awesome work. And once you manage that, to keep upgrading your standards for awesome, and keep hammering away until the right editor, right agent, right publisher, right whoever, notices.
You know this already. Easier said than done, yes, but it’s the only way. Lazy work, amateurish work, work that lacks your heart and soul, isn’t going to get you anywhere. Awesome work is also just the first stage of making yourself stand out.
But let’s say you’ve pulled it off. The right people are starting to notice. Or let’s say you have faith and want to be ready when they do.
What then? How do you keep making yourself stand out? Besides the obvious of continuing to do what got you noticed in the first place?
Here’s one radical idea that you learned in preschool, that won’t cost anything, and is ridiculously simple: Express gratitude. Say thank you.
This Is Rarer Than You Might Think
Several years ago I decided to start making it a priority to send a few words of thanks to the editor responsible whenever a piece of mine came out in an anthology, a magazine, the occasional book of essays or other nonfiction. It’s one thing to say thanks when you’re sending back a signed contract. But this was after I’d received my contributor’s copy, after months or even, in the case of books, a year or two may have gone by. It’s old business by then.
Nothing gushy, no slobbering, just straightforward and from the heart: Thanks for sending the copy, and thanks especially for having me in it. I’m glad to be there. Whatever seems right or unique to the project.
I didn’t start doing this for any other reason than that it seemed like the right thing to do. Because I sincerely am glad to be there. Competition for table-of-contents space can be fierce, and sometimes editors really do agonize over their choices.
Here’s where the surprise came in: Early in this habit, an editor wrote back to express his appreciation for my appreciation.
Hardly anybody ever says thank you, he told me.
Wow. This was a prominent editor with dozens of books and lots of awards to his credit. He’s wrangled a number of prestige projects. His word is good, he treats authors well and with respect…
Yet hardly anybody could be bothered to tell him thanks?
Since then, I’ve always made it a point to be one of the exceptions.
And I can’t help but notice we’ve had a pretty good professional relationship that continues to this day.
Pesky Human Nature
I don’t know why gratitude gets overlooked in cases like this, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s simply because it’s easy to overlook. There’s no penalty tax, your mom’s not there to remind you (“What do you saa-aay?”), and really, who has that extra minute or two? So it becomes an easily omitted indulgence that we think goes without saying. You do your job, I’ll do mine, and we’ll both get along fine.
You know … like robots on an assembly line.
But if you’ve ever read marketing maven Seth Godin, you don’t have to go very far before you find some riff on his contention that people crave human interactions that go beyond the simple mechanics of a business transaction. I would maintain that expressions of gratitude are a perfectly valid form of this.
Question A: Don’t you like to feel appreciated for what you do?
Question B: Then why neglect that inclination in others?
A funny thing happens when you resolve to be one of the relative few who take appreciative notice. You get noticed in return.
The Circle Expands
It isn’t only editors and publishers. I’ve made it a point to thank artists. Book designers. People who’ve tweeted on my behalf. More. Which may sound as if I’m advocating buttering up only to people who can do something for me in the future. Not so, and I can prove it: When I’ve been able to find out who they were, I’ve thanked some of the publishing process’s most invisible people: copy editors.
On the one hand, it just feels good to do it.
On the other hand, I no longer think of these folks as a widely scattered individuals with slivers of overlap, like a Venn diagram. I think of them as something distinctly and collectively more.
In his landmark book from 1937, Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill — commissioned by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to spend 20+ years analyzing the work approach of many of the nation’s most successful people and distilling it into practical habits and philosophy — wrote about a concept he called the Master Mind.
In a nutshell, the Master Mind is the combined synergy of a person and the other people he or she brings in to work together on a common purpose. Whatever their aim, they add up to much more than the sum of their parts. Traditionally they’re thought of as periodically gathering in the same place — putting their heads together to create one giant, pulsating noggin — and while this is no doubt preferable in most examples, there have to be exceptions.
We live one, we writers.
Writing goes hand-in-hand with a great deal of isolation. We do so much work alone that we can be fooled into thinking that we’re doing it all on our own. Au contraire. Even if you’re digitally self-publishing, you’re still not doing it all on your own.
Whatever the project, whatever its path to publication, think of the process and its constituent parts: editor, publisher, illustrator, designer, cover artist, copy editor, agent, promoter. More, probably, if you look for them.
These are your Master Mind. They may never sit around the same table, but still, they’re yours. They come together on behalf of you and your work, and not a one of them wants it to be any less than it can be. They want it to succeed. They want you to succeed.
Few of us, I imagine, actually take them for granted. But if we give that appearance, then what’s the difference?
Break the status quo, though, and you could have even more to thank them for in the future.
***** Parting is such sweet sorrow … but you can put it off a few more minutes. You’re always welcome over at my own blog, Warrior Poet, whose latest installment is “The Writer’s Soul: Built One Crack At A Time.”
[Photo by psd]